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How Gaza war boosts nuke drive
Iran, unfortunately, has grown stronger from the recent Israel-Hamas hostilities.
Despite media concentration on last week’s cease-fire, the real focal point is still the invisible Middle Eastern struggle for strategic advantage. There, Iran was already gaining ground, as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Nov. 16: Tehran’s extensive nuclear program continues its rapid progress, and it is still stonewalling IAEA inspectors. There is no doubt where Iran is headed.
The mullahs’ priority isn’t the Israel-Palestinian relationship, but whether Israel has the will and the capability to attack Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Thus, despite Hamas’ terrorist aggression, launching over 1,500 rockets against Israel’s civilian population, Tehran’s central concern was the small number of Fajr-5 missiles targeted on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
These launches confirm what has long been suspected, namely that Iran had armed Hamas (as it has armed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon) with longer-range missiles. And the November clashes provided a combat environment for Iran to test-fire the Fajr-5s from Gaza.
True, Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system performed extremely well, a palpable reminder to Americans (especially to President Obama, a long-term opponent of national missile defense for the United States) of the importance of this capability. But Iran also learned a good deal about Iron Dome — and in the never-ceasing struggle between offense and defense, will be better prepared for having had this “dry run” against Israeli defenses.
How will Iran retaliate if its nuclear-weapons facilities are struck pre-emptively? It has several options, including closing the Strait of Hormuz or directly attacking Israel, but its most likely response is indirect. With terrorist allies in place in both Lebanon and Gaza, Tehran is in effect positioned behind Israeli lines, encircling the tiny country and making it much harder to defend.
The Israeli air force can’t be in three places at once, attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities while also trying to suppress missile attacks from both Lebanon’s Bekaa valley and Gaza. And given the inevitable losses Israel will suffer over Iran, Israel’s air assets could be stretched beyond their limits.
Thus, Iran’s ability to inflict unacceptable casualties on Israeli civilians via its terror proxies, all the while maintaining at least a shred of deniability for such attacks, is a powerful element in any Israeli government’s calculation whether to strike Iran pre-emptively.
It is also a reason why only by acting together with the United States might Israel be sure of success and protection. Under the Obama administration, however, joint military action with Washington can essentially be ruled out.
Cynics believed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tough response to the Hamas rocket attacks was intended to bolster his prospects in Israel’s upcoming Jan. 22 Knesset elections. Netanyahu did enjoy considerable support for the Israeli retaliation against Hamas, but public-opinion polls showed little enthusiasm for a possible ground attack. Somewhat surprisingly, therefore, the cease-fire has not been as politically popular in Israel as many Western observers expected (or feared).
Netanyahu has been roundly criticized by Israel’s center-left opposition; he may be weakened in the January elections, either losing outright or being forced into a governing coalition with parties opposed to military strikes against Iran’s nuclear-weapons program. Iran would clearly welcome such an outcome.
Moreover, in an eerie replay of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, Hamas won by not losing. Hamas has already rejected the idea that it is precluded from smuggling new supplies of weapons into Gaza, and the actual text of the cease-fire agreement supports its interpretation.
Given the Sinai Peninsula’s continuing anarchy, still-rampant corruption in Egyptian security forces and the long history of failed efforts to stop smuggling into Gaza, Hamas likely has little to fear. Iran will almost certainly be able to provide more Fajr-5s, perhaps the more-sophisticated versions Iran’s own military deploys; press reports indicate the resupply is already underway.
On Thanksgiving, one day after the cease-fire, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi showed his contempt for America and Europe by moving decisively toward authoritarian rule. While he ran into immediate strong opposition, he has not yet abandoned that effort, even temporarily. If the Muslim Brotherhood consolidates its authority in Cairo, Hamas and Iran will benefit, and Israel will suffer.
Meanwhile, the weakened Palestinian Authority was further marginalized, leaving Hamas in a much stronger position internally and internationally.
So what initially seemed an Obama administration diplomatic victory is swiftly proving to be yet another step toward Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons. This is how Iran’s grand strategy is playing out; it would be nice if Obama had one.
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